In many parts of Deer Nation, when hunting season appears on the calendar, the whitetail woods come alive with trophy bucks on the prowl.
Sometimes however, particularly when the early season heat is still on, the movement of many of these ghostly apparitions is well after dark thirty arrives each day.
After all, trail cameras don’t lie.
Oxford, Miss. bowhunter Ronnie Cannon is a successful archer of some two decades who knows how to tag bucks from the Deep South to the legendary Pike County, Ill. where he helps guide hunters every fall at Hopewell Views Hunting Club.
With such experience, Cornbread as his friends call him, knows all too well the frustration that comes when chasing a buck that has gone nocturnal.
“I’ve had a couple of rounds with those guys,” said Cannon. “You know the deer is there, his sign is there, his rubs are there, (and) his scrapes are there. You go in one day and find a scrape and you come back in the next day and find it worked over. That’s a pretty good sign that the buck is nocturnal.”
So what can you do besides simply swatting mosquitoes this fall when the buck you’re chasing goes underground during daylight hours?
Follow these tactics and you just might turn the lights out on a dark thirty buck once and for all:
Play the Wind – Play the wind right and the odds are still long that you’ll tag a trophy buck.
Play the wind wrong and you might as well sleep in.
Take, for instance, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game warden Dale Moses’ story from a few years back.
Moses, a passionate bowhunter during his time off, is a stickler for carbon suits and a stringent pre-hunt routine designed to eliminate scent.
Except that one day he slept a bit too long, had to hurry, and didn’t keep his routine intact.
You know what’s coming next.
“I had a five-point buck underneath me in a shooting lane and he wasn’t paying any attention to me, but I also had a 170-inch 10-point that started coming in downwind of me,” Moses said.
“He was standing about 50 yards away looking at the five-point and all of a sudden, he bolted like he had been shot at.”
The moral of this story?
If you don’t want to know the sickening sound of a Booner noisily vacating the premises, do everything you can to control your scent.
And then, always play the wind correctly.
Sound Low Light Strategies – “In the morning, bucks and does are leaving food sources and headed towards bedding areas,” Cannon said.
“You need to be careful in getting too close to the food sources because you might bump them. Instead, hunt closer to the bedding area. But you need a well made plan with a good entrance route that will allow you to get near the bedding area undetected early.”
In the evening, it’s wise not to get too close to a deer’s chow hall.
Why? They may not arrive at an evening food source until darkness falls.
A better plan is to target the staging areas where bucks tend to hang out until low light conditions convince them that the coast is clear.
Read the Current Menu – The autumn season is a time of transition in the life of whitetails, from the lazy, hazy days of summer to the rigors of the autumn rut.
It’s also a time when the menu at the local deer dining hall is subject to change without notice.
“Late summer deer might hang around the bean fields in August and September, but they’ll move to the acorns and such a lot of times in October,” Cannon said.
“It pays to know the food sources (that) local deer utilize, when those sources are available, and where you can hang a stand for a particular wind direction.”
Watch the Weather – The passage of a major cold front on the weather map can often turn the deer hunting up a notch or two across the country.
“I used to really key in on opening weekend, but now I really focus on the first good weather change of the fall,” Cannon said.
“When you have to put on a little extra clothing, you can bet the deer will be a little more active. If I had hair all over me and weighed 260 pounds, I’d probably get up and move more when it got cooler.”
Remember Deer Biology – “Sleep, sex, and sustenance – those are the three things that drive a deer’s life,” Cannon said.
In addition to traditional buck signposts of rubs and scrapes, don’t ignore the bottleneck travel routes utilized by does.
Steve Lewandowski – an Oklahoma native who has spent plenty of time chasing whitetails in Texas and his current state of Missouri too – anchored such a spot a few years back and ended up arrowing a nice Sooner State wallhanger.
And believe it or not, he first saw the hat-racked sized buck during the second week of October – following a doe.
“I’m always a firm believer in where the women are, the men will follow,” Lewandowski said.
And as October continues on towards November’s rut, that is undoubtedly the best tip that a deer hunter can heed when it comes to arrowing a monster buck this fall.